I am, perhaps, the only human being on the face of the earth who tortures myself so thoroughly with what-ifs. I’ve always done it, from the very earliest times I can remember.
Not always bad what-ifs, necessarily. Some were lovely what-ifs. What if I had a unicorn and we could fly away at night, and touch the moon, and then make it back before dawn so no one would ever know we’d gone? What if I had the power of healing touch, and could take away pain and suffering with a hug or a pat? What if I wished so hard for a little black puppy that it just suddenly materialized in front of me, wiggling and yipping?
See? Good what-ifs. (There were bad ones, too, but I’m making a point, here.)
In my adulthood, sometimes I still get the what-ifs…
What if one of my exes showed up randomly on my doorstep one day?
What if I opened the door and Shane was standing there in his black fedora, staring at me, all gray-eyed intensity? And then he smiled and asked if he could come in and chat.
“Well, uh, sure, I guess,” I’d say, and I’d make tea while I made sense of my spinning brains.
What would I need to say to him? What would I ask him?
I think I’d start with, “I can’t believe it’s been… gosh… probably fifteen years, I guess, since we’ve talked.”
“Long time, huh, doll?” And he’d wink and I’d smile because he always called me “doll” even though I never gave him permission and I pretended to hate it.
We’d catch up on all the small talk things like what we’re up to and who we married and how life is. He’d tell me about his students (because of course he’s a high school teacher now– and somehow that just makes total sense). I’d tell him about my writing– and maybe he’d be jealous of that because we were both writers, once, before we knew you could be a writer for a living.
And then we’d probably get stuck because he’s a Bible teacher and I’m a bawdy humorist. He teaches young “ladies and gents” (that’s what he’d call them) how to live a pious life, and I teach 30-year-old women new and interesting swear words. He kept the faith. I fell away.
Things would get quiet and weird, and he wouldn’t know what to say anymore because all we had left, in his mind, was being brother and sister in Christ, and I’m not really in Christ anymore, am I? No, now I’m in gin and f-bombs and liberal-leaning politics. We’re unrelated. And I’m un-relatable.
I probably wouldn’t tell him that I’d love to hear one of his lectures, and I’d love to see how he gives his students room to try out their voices and their opinions. I probably wouldn’t tell him that I think what he’s doing matters and is important and is good, because I’m not sure he’d take the compliment. After all, we disagree on so much now.
But I would tell him that I’ve missed him and that I’m proud of him and that the time we had together changed me forever, for the better, and that I think about him. I would tell him I’m sorry for hurting him– that I was young, and, as far as excuses go, I guess that’s a pretty good one, but I’m still sorry.
And then he’d say goodbye, probably forever… and probably with a smile and a hug and a wink, because he’s polite and just a little suave, and that– I bet– will always be true.